Thursday, February 28, 2008

SpEd Tip #1: Stay Frosty

This is the first piece of advice I offer anyone about to enter the labyrinth of special education, related services, and 504 plans. Most every parent who gets to the point where their child is getting in trouble, getting poor grades, clearly not able to do grade level work, and admits to themselves that the kid might need special ed, gets mad. They’re mad because they think, rightly, that the school should have spotted it, should have done something about it, should have taken steps.

Maybe the parent is mad because they’ve been asking, year after year, for help for their child, and the school district has been delaying, dallying, denying, and generally dinking around, while the child is falling further and further behind. Maybe the school district has lied outright to them on any number of issues.

You’re mad because of a betrayal of expectations. We expect schools to know what they’re doing, know what they’re supposed to do, and then we expect them to do it, by gum! We expect them to be knowledgeable professionals with the best interests of our children as a priority.

We don’t expect them to lie, be incompetent, refuse to help a child in need of assistance, or to make excuses for why it’s OUR fault and not theirs. We don’t expect them to squirm like snakes to get out of providing necessary services. We don’t expect them to complain that they can’t afford help for our children because there are so many other children with greater needs. We don’t expect them to be stupid or malicious.

But they are. And that is why parents get mad; normal expectations have been betrayed, and we are hurt, hyper-alert, and angry.

So, my advice is to “stay frosty”, in other words, get cooled down and stay there while I fill you in on the reality of school districts. There are some good ones who know what they’re supposed to do and do it without even blinking. If your child were in one of those districts, he’d already be in SpEd, and you’d be reasonably well-informed and engaged in the process of getting services for him. Many school districts are not like that.

The problem is rarely malice. It’s usually a combination of ignorance and inappropriate gatekeeping. There are very few people in schools, administrators, teachers, nurses, or others who actually know more than a thimbleful about special education and the law. They only know what they’ve been told, and that’s not much.

Administrators have next to nothing to do with your children. They are the logistical planners for schools – they arrange transportation, days off, negotiate for supplies, review bills from utilities, manage office staff, call for substitute teachers, and deal with similar things. They prepare reports for the school board, report to the superintendent, and are supposed to be well-versed in the general laws regarding schools. The assistant principal may be in charge of the mechanics and procedures of formal discipline. Administrators tend to be fixated on cost containment and will do their gatekeeping (preventing your child access to special services) on that basis.

Teachers are used to dealing with “average” students. The average student acts up occasionally, responds reasonably well to consequences, gets reasonable grades, and is kind of predictable. Teachers feel themselves to be primarily responsible for teaching average students, the middle 80% of children – they rarely know what to do for a gifted child or a child with special needs. They can get belligerent if they feel they’re being blamed for your child’s poor performance (and they always feel that way). They don’t like having to do extra stuff, or complicated stuff, or things that are “more” than what they’re doing for the 80% because they feel like they’re shortchanging their “real” students. Fortunately, they can be very cooperative if the parent knows this and accommodates the TEACHER’S needs, too. Teachers will resist and gatekeep if they think you’re asking too much of them.

The only people in the whole school system who have even a moderate understanding of special needs, disabilities, and services and programs are the people in the Special Education department. Therefore, it’s important to get through the other gatekeepers, the teachers and administrators, and get to the SpEd folks. They will be gatekeepers, too, in kind of a microcosmic reflection of the regular administrators and teachers. They are always understaffed, underfunded, overworked, and you’re always asking for too much for no good reason. Oh, woe is me.

However, it is their job, and their responsibility to know the laws, to follow them, and to get your child the services required. And, eventually, they will, God willing, and with the help of research, good friends and sound advice.

Now that you know that, you need to blow off all the steam that built up while dealing with the gatekeepers in regular education. If you take your anger with you into the SpEd department, it’s only going to make you look hysterical and unreasonable. Stay frosty, because for the SpEdders, special services are their everyday business. Asking for appropriate programs should be done the same way you’d ask the butcher for a pound of good, fresh pork chops, or the greengrocer for oranges from the latest shipment. It’s really no big deal, they have to follow the law, and this group of people knows that.

Then, as legal requirements click along at a pre-determined pace, like a train on the tracks, it’s easy to get frustrated and let all that residual frustration and anger come back again. Don’t do it. Let the process flow; remain frosty.

Remember, as long as you are the coolest cucumber in the room, you’ll last the longest.

Oddball Word of the Day

caduceus (Kuh-DOO-see-ehs) n. the symbolic staff carried by Mercury as herald of the gods, now used as a symbol for medicine

(from the guide to MMMW edicted by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Every knitter knows it, and lots of us suffer from it. It’s the uncontrollable urge to put down whatever project you’re working on right now and start something new. Maybe you want to get your hands on a different color, yarn weight, texture, something sparkly, something not-sparkly, something bland you can knit in the dark, or just something NEW. Even knitters of extraordinary character and will power may hear the siren call of Startitis – they’ll hang onto their current projects like moray eels until they’re finished, but they hear the wilding call nonetheless.

I kind of gave up fighting Startitis a decade or so ago and decided to call it either Knitting BiPolar Disorder or Seasonal Affective Knitting Disorder. Mine cycles, and, fortunately for me, while I don’t spin fleece, and can spin words and ideas. My KBPD/SAKD (see, it’s official – it has an acronym!) goes like this…

September: It’s still warmish out, but the leaves are starting to change color, so it must be time to knit. I start and finish sweaters in September. I finish up leftover projects from earlier in the year.

October and November: I start thicker sweaters, the kids start asking for them, and then I want to knit them. I think about knitting myself a sweater and may even go buy some faboo yarn for one. (Years later, it will wind up being a sweater for someone else.) I knit hats and scarves and work on trickier sweaters. I get a Great Idea for using up oddball yarn in Yet Another Afghan. I finish up the last of the hangover projects, but I still have four or five things on the needles.

December: I knit things that are not for Christmas, but that I can put down easily without forgetting what I was doing, such as socks for myself, mittens, hats, and Knit for Kids sweaters for donations. I do not take requests for knitting during the month because it’s already completely knuts around here.

January: I start hating all my works in progress. The scarf is bulgier than I like and doesn’t show off the yarn right. The thick sweater p*sses me off because the yarn is color pooling or I found twigs in it, or I’m running short. I have so many pairs of socks that I don’t want to start another pair, but then I find really excellent yarn that I’ve been looking for all my life, buy it, and cast on a sock. I’m tired of the afghan for some reason – too heavy, too random, the stitch is too fussy for my short attention span, something. I don’t like any of my yarn and start window shopping on Ebay and online yarn stores.

February: I’m depressed. I have all these projects and nothing’s really DONE. I’m still convinced they’re worthy, so I don’t frog them all, but I can’t stand to work another stitch on any of them. I buy another skein of sock yarn, just to look at and touch. I eat too much chocolate and cook comfort food. My whole family sleeps too much from carbohydrate overload. Right about the end of the month, I’ll pick up some project I sidelined last fall and finish it.

March and April: I realize I need to finish the heavy, winter stuff before it gets too warm, so the mojo kicks in and I knit like a bat outta hell to get the afghan, scarf, sweater, and fancy patterned thing done. I set aside lighter weight projects to work on later. I might buy more needles, “to complete my set of…”

May: I’m depressed. I still have at least one project that I know I won’t get to until the thermometer dips into the 30’s, so I put it in the Naughty Closet. Sometimes projects go there because they were naughty and ticked me off; sometimes projects go there because I was naughty and didn’t finish them during the “right” season. I notice I have too much yarn and way too many patterns. I sort through the yarn and match it up with patterns. I throw out a few patterns. I think really hard about getting rid of some pattern books. I rummage through all the rest of my yarn and realize I have some nice stuff, so I move it to the front or top of its storage zone.

June and July: Mornings are mindless knitting. I knit things from cotton or non-wool – dishcloths, coasters, mini afghans of washable fiber for my dogs, small clothes for Bunny’s beloved Theodora bear, and maybe a couple hats from sock wool.

August: I’m out of cotton, which is good because I hate it now. I can’t stand the sight of another hat, another mitten, or another sock. I cast on a shawl to work on because by the time it gets heavy, it’ll be cold out, or so I tell myself. I box up donations and ship them out.

And then it’s September again....

My family thinks I have wooly caterpillar DNA because they watch what I knit and when. If I’m already starting a sweater in late August, they start airing out their parkas and checking felted hats and mittens for pest damage because they know there’s a cold winter coming. They want to get their requests for repairs or replacements in early.

Me, I’m just glad I’ve learned to find a way to make my KBPD/SAKD work for me – stuff does actually get finished before people grow out of its size, and I do cycle through my yarn pretty well.

I’ll be posting pictures of what got knitted after it gets washed and blocked. We already wore most of it since this has been a right nippy winter so far.

Oddball Word of the Day

zygodactyl (zii-guh-DAK-till): adj. with the toes of each foot arranged in pairs, one pair pointing forward and one pair backward, as in a parrot

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being... my backyard. We had another 6 inch snow last night, and it was even prettier, although harder to photograph, while coming down in big, fat flakes. Yes, that is our tacky above-ground pool.

Oddball Word of the Day

therblig (THUR blig): n. any element in an operation or procedure that can be subjected to time and motion study

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Ding Dong

My kids, especially the two ADHD boys, are night owls. If you know ADHD people, you know that an alarm clock just doesn’t do the job, and for the last 20 years, I’ve had to learn a thousand, million ways to wake them up and get them dressed, fed, medicated, cleaned up, and out the door for school.

I’ve tried hollering, banging on their bedroom doors with wooden spoons, metal pots, and my flat hand. I’ve bounced cheerfully on their beds until they’re queasy and roll out of bed before they barf. I’ve tried tickling, letting other family members tickle them, and I have sent dogs into their rooms to bark, whine, slobber, and frolic them awake. My favorite method involving the dogs has been to stand at the doorway with the dog nearby and throw bits of dog treats onto the sleeping night owl, so that the dog bounds energetically to and fro around on the sleeper. My oldest son still refers to this tactic as the “wet biscuit” method.

I’m kind of tired of finding ways to wake them up in a timely manner. My creative juices are not really flowing in that direction any more. I’ve managed to turn myself into the biggest lark in the house, getting up around 5 am, if not earlier, every day of the week, and I have no more patience for waking the comatose.

Well, over my hiatus, my husband was working on my mother-in-law’s First Alert clone alarm system. Since her husband died and she moved into a quad home area with other seniors, we all agreed that a pendant she could push for help would be a good thing. This one phones my husband’s cell phone first, and she can then speak or just keep mashing the button. If someone else is in the house, but maybe not right where they could see her, she can also push a button to make a heinously loud alarm sound from the main unit, and then the other person would have to find her and turn off the alarm from the pendant. Something went wrong with it, and my techie spouse brought it home to fiddle with. It did make an ear-splitting racket, no doubt about it.

He couldn’t seem to get it to dial the phone again, and in disgust said, “well, it would make a good alarm bell for in the house, I guess, but she really needs one that will dial out.” I nodded in agreement, and then called for Doodle to come and do one of his chores. He didn’t show up. I called again. Still no Doodle. I was cranky and got up to go find him and give him a good glaring-at, when a light bulb appeared over hubby’s head.

“Hey,” he said, “why don’t I put the alarm box in his room and give you the pendant? Then you can just press the button and not have to yell?” I looked at him with wonder. “Can you do that? He might unplug it,” I said. “I’ll hide it,” he replied, and he went off, sent the Doodle in my direction, and installed the alarm. We didn’t tell Doodle about it because we are sneaky, evil parents.

Later on, Doodle was sloughing off on another chore, and I opened my mouth to holler for him, spotted the pendant and pushed the alarm button. A sound like the spaceship from that “Klaatu-Barada-Nicktu” movie went off in his room, and he came dashing out of his room yelling, “HEY! WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?” I pushed the “off” button, which generates a two tone sound like the elevator in a posh department store, and said, “It’s my Doodle Call. I don’t have to yell for you any more,” and a wide, wide grin spread across my face.

“Holy Crap,” said Doodle, “well, what do you need me for?” “Dish chore,” I replied, and went back to the living room enveloped in a feeling of bliss I haven’t experienced since my last encounter with a chocolate-raspberry truffle.

The next day, my daughter decided to ignore me when I called for her, and I wound up banging on her door after the third call, opening it up, and finding her in front of her computer with a pair of headphones on, be-bopping to heaven only knows what. “Hey,” I said, “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

“Well, kind of,” she replied, “but I was really enjoying this song.”

“Why didn’t you just say so? I could have waited,” I said.

“Ummmm,” was her response.

“Ah, I see,” I said.

That evening, I asked my husband if he could find another buzzer and put it in her room. I asked that it be loud enough to be heard through headphones and rock music. “No problem,” he said, “I love home improvement stuff,” and he winked at me and headed off to the hardware store.

When he came back, he had a remote doorbell, which generates a different, tinny kind of two-tone chime, and he snuck into her room when she wasn’t looking and installed it. He came back into the living room, and we grinned evilly at one another. “Need her to do anything?” I asked. He thought for a minute. “I’ll bet the dogs are in need of food and water,” he said. “I’m on it,” I replied, and pushed the bell. “HEY!” we heard, “NOT ME, TOO!” and she came into the living room looking very cranky and said, “WHAT?!” in that very special way teenaged girls have.

Hubs said, “I think your poor puppies are hungry and thirsty. Please feed and water them,” and he smiled innocently at her. “Oh, GOD,” she said and stumped off, grumbling the entire time she was filling their bowls.

“Two down,” I said, looking at hubby and quirking an eyebrow, “do we dare go for a three-fer? It’ll have to be the loudest one made, Spot sleeps pretty deeply.”

“I can do that,” replied hubs, “I love a challenge.”

He had to hit three hardware stores before finding an alarm just a few decibels below the “illegal noise level” range. It’s been hard-wired into Spot’s room. I have a little key chain now, with four alarm buttons on it (we decided not to let them hide in the basement, pretending they couldn’t hear any alarms). Each one gives a different tone, and I can choose among eight different tunes for the one in the basement.

I don’t have to yell anymore at all. I just gently push a button and wait. If no one shows up, I push it again, and again, and again. Someone always shows up. They may not be happy, but they are all getting to school on time, and I don’t have to yell until I’m cranky, or get up from whatever else I’m doing to hunt them down to remind them of chores.

I don’t think I’ve been this happy since I first discovered orgasms.

Oddball Word of the Day

Dead Man's Hand: (in poker) a hand containing two aces and two eights

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fiddle Dee Dee

Well, it’s taken me longer to return than I expected, but here I am, in all my winter glory – snow-covered and chilly, but hanging in there. The short list of what’s been going on since I last posted looks like this:

Dad’s not dead.
Neither is anyone else in the family.

After two 24-hour + power outages in extremely cold weather, we now have a new refrigerator and a new range.

The septic field is fine, but we were nearly too late getting the tank pumped.
We have a new appreciation for phones that work consistently.
And garage doors that are not too heavy to manually lift.

I’ve made a half dozen pairs of wool socks for myself.

Two of my kids are older.

We survived the holidays more easily than I expected.

I’m at the leading edge of a “new” career.
It’s very time-consuming, but cool.

The baby dog, Gracie, is calmer, spayed, and seems to have given up shoe-hunting in favor of digging holes through the snow and permafrost and into the vicinity of telephone lines.

Urk. I want to thank (picture me in a modest evening gown at the podium) everyone who kept stopping by during my long hiatus, everyone who sent me a note, and everyone who didn’t publicly lambaste me as a totally useless wiener. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back on a fairly regular schedule for writing.

So, the new career… Well, as you may remember, I have advocated for my own children because of their ADHD over the years – with school districts. I’ve also volunteered time and scarce brain cells to assist others lost in the morass of special education law and procedures. I’ve done some of it entirely by remote, over the computer, some of it in person, hunched over tables in the library, chairs in the doctor’s office, or while knitting at Chix with Stix.

A few months ago, another lady briefly joined the women’s group, and she has a child with profound disabilities. The table discussion that day concerned a variety of special education issues, and some of the other ladies are teachers, substitute teachers, or just have concerns about themselves, loved ones, or offspring. Apparently, without realizing it, I came off as being a real whiz kid on special ed issues. The moderator recommended that I consider becoming a paid advocate.

I pondered it and discarded the idea, feeling insecure and inadequate. She brought it up again in another group, so I pondered it again, did some research, and set my subconscious to the task of grinding away at the idea. I got closer to the precipice labeled “OK”.

Once again, in mid-January, the moderator, a clinical psychologist, brought it up, and I said, “yes”. She promptly handed me a referral. Tough case, too. It set my juices flowing, got blood pumping through my brain again, and I reached down into the dark, damp dungeon of my insecurities and examined them more critically.

I’ve spent twelve years advocating on an on-going basis for my own children. I’ve done a bang-up job of it, and I’ve had success with the assistance I’ve given other people. I checked state law and requirements, joined some support lists, and realized that I actually do have a clue about how to do this. I’ve surprised myself by feeling reasonably confident, competent and enthusiastic.

It’s that last feeling that really surprises me the most. Over the years as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve lost enthusiasm for rejoining the work world. I know how much it would take away from my ability to be a good mom to my kids, to keep my household running without lots of stress, and to maintain basic standards. I’ve learned to value myself and my needs, and they can sometimes be time-consuming. It’s been hard to try to figure out a way to put all of that in a framework so that nothing gets so badly neglected that it becomes an “issue” unto itself.

I tried signing up for at-home work, and that was a bust for several reasons. I tried signing up to be a secret shopper type person, and, really, there’s nothing intellectually fulfilling about it, and it felt more like tedious busywork. I’m not the sort to sell real estate, and other things just don’t generate enough income to make them more than a hobby. I am, however, a relentless researcher, and that’s a fine trait indeed for a special education advocate.

So, anyway, I decided on a fee schedule, checked the market, checked my conscience, and heard the “Click”. Everything fell into a place that felt like it fit. I met with my new (first) clients, and, more “click”-ing. Then, I let the data-mining juggernaut within loose. I roared through stacks of special education law, paperwork, historical data, case law, due process decisions, educational files going back nearly a decade, descriptions of applicable disorders and conditions, and felt… invigorated. Taller. Like I was breathing easier. Engaged. Focused.

I kept my clients’ butts covered and set loose the twin dogs of strategy and salesmanship. And we won. Everything the clients wanted. And everyone is still happy, the child is protected and in the right place with the right program in place, the clients can sleep at night, the school district was guided to the appropriate decisions and does not appear to feel steamrolled, and I can sleep, too.

It worked. I did it right, and fate smiled. I can, in fact, do this.

I’ve gotten two more referrals since then, and we’ll see how those go. Sometimes people are not going to really need me, they’ll just need someone to adjust their compasses. Other times, folks may have unreasonable expectations and it might not be a good fit for us to work together. But this does feel right for me at this point in time. I can make some measurable money and still be a mom and wife. I can say “no” if that’s the right choice. My brains are turning back into brains instead of being motherhood haggis, and I can take pride in doing a hard job to the best of my ability.

Wish me luck.

Oddball Word of the Day

anneal: (uh-NEEL) v. to toughen (as glass or metal) by heating and gradually cooling

(from the Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, Mispronounced Words edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

die Gelegenheit beim Schopf packen: to jump at the opportunity

zB: Sein Opa packte die Gelegenheit beim Schopf, zum ersten Mal eine Flugreise machen zu koennen.

auf Englisch: His grandad jumped at the opportunity of being able to travel by air for the first time.

(from a Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)